KQED Video – Climate Change & The Vineyard of the Future

Imagine this.  You’re a fly on the wall of a Northern California hotel that caters to vacationers.  How many times do you think you’d hear something like

"It’s summer in CALIFORNIA!  Of COURSE I’m wearing shorts and a T-Shirt!"

A couple goose-bump filled hours later, that tourist is the proud owner of an over-priced sweatshirt emblazoned with "Santa Barbara!" or "Monterey!" or "San Francisco!" or even "Mendocino!"  (Which begs the question, will global warming ruin the sweatshirt industry?  Discuss)

Ne_pacific_currentsOf course, readers of this blog know what this tourist didn’t – Norther California coastlines are cooled by ocean currents from Alaska that travel down to Point Conception in Santa Barbara before circling out to the center of Pacific to be warmed up.  From there they start the cycle all over again.  It’s what keeps the West Coast cool.  Figuratively as well as literally, in my opinion.

And it’s what makes these regions perfect for cool-climate wine grapes such as Pinot Noir.  From Mendocino’s Anderson Valley down to Santa Barbara’s Santa Rita Hills, warm days are tempered by cool nights, all thanks to these ocean currents. 

So, what happens to the wine industry if the Pacific warms up? 

Of the various researchers looking into this issue, wine lovers will be interested in the work UC Davis is conducting on warm-weather grapes.  This 15 minute segment from KQED’s program "QUEST" provides a good introduction.  Let me know what you think:

Dave Chambers, Wine Merchant




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"The more you read and observe about this Politics thing, you got to admit that each party is worse than the other. The one that’s out always looks the best" unless you get your wine from SidewaysWineClub.com
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Waiter! What's this rat doing in my Chardonnay?!

Ratshoppers4_2In late-breaking news from "Deadline Hollywood", I paste this excerpt:

Meanwhile, Disney says Ratatouille’s Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday opening week grosses proved to be the biggest ever for a Pixar film… A lot has been made… about the difficulty of merchandising a kitchen rat. But I’m told the Soda Fountain Studio Store next door to Hollywood’s El Capitan Theater has been non stop packed with Ratatouille shoppers. (See photo). I’m told that the store cannot keep in stock plush toy rats and radio controlled rats. Also big sellers are chef hats and kids cookbooks. Other Ratatouille items for sale at either Disney Stores, mass retailers and specialty retailers include: Ratatouille Chardonnay (Costco), Ratatouille cheese (Costco), Ratatouille back-to-school items, Ratatouille kids cookware toys, Ratatouille kids home decor and cooking classes (Sur La Table).

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Best Food & Wine Movie Ever

Movie_boardWe just returned from a family outing to see "Ratatouille", the new hit movie from Pixar.  It is rare for us to see a movie in a theater, let alone one that has only been out for two weeks.  During that period, this new paean to food has grossed nearly $50 million and is the nation’s #1 movie, at the time of this posting.  Not bad for a movie about a rat.

I jest, of course.  This movie is about food.  Good food.  Food as something about which one should think.  Sounds sort of like the Slow Food movement all over again.  But then, that’s not surprising.  The film takes place in the kitchen of a fine Parisien restaurant, and Pixar Animation Studios, the film’s producer, is located in the food-crazy San Francisco Bay area. 

Orbiting Pixar are some of the nation’s finest restaurants, not to mention movers and shakers of the gastronomic world (Alice Waters, both Kellers, Micheal Minna, and too many others to name).  And Pixar hired several renowned chefs to serve as food and kitchen advisors, and it shows in many of the scenes.  This is a movie that will be influencing our next generation, and how they eat.  Which made me wonder if it might not be the best food movie ever…

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$9 for a Stinkin' Drink???

Martini What does nine bucks buy these days? 

  • – Two gallons of milk
  • – About 60 miles worth of gas
  • – One movie ticket
  • – And, if you live in San Francisco, one cocktail, wine or beer

Sorry folks, if you live in NY, LA or Vegas, nine bucks is just a down-payment on your favorite drink ($10.12, $10.66 and $11.86, respectively), according to findings from a new Zagat survey.  What’s more, these prices represent a 24% increase over just two years ago!

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Are High-Octane Wines Good or Bad? Vote Here!

Arnie_winesAre you drinking more wines with lower alcohol levels, say 14.5% or less? I’m beginning to wonder if the pendulum is beginning to swing away from high alcohol wines.  Consider these stories from just the last two weeks.

First, there is this week’s news story about a third-generation Sacramento wine retailer refusing to sell wines with alcohol levels above 14.5%.  Corti Brothers are respected experts on the foods and wines of Italy, and it’s curious to see this move from a major local retailer.  I’m interested to see if this becomes a permanent policy.

Labelzin2005cropThen there’s last week’s news that Toucan Wines’ 2005 Zinfandel, one of the most elegant Zins at this year’s ZAP tasting, has taken Gold Medals at three of the industry’s significant events:

  1. The L.A. International Wine Competition,
  2. The Orange County Fair, and
  3. The Dallas Morning News wine Competition.

Toucan’s alcohol level? About 14.5%!  One of the lowest levels in the Zin category. (Buy it here, $34)…

Continue reading “Are High-Octane Wines Good or Bad? Vote Here!”

Birds do it. Bees… not so much, lately

Ba_was43_environmentWill climate change affect global wine production?

With Michael Crichton and Rush insisting "there’s no basis in fact" and Al Gore and global consensus inconveniently urging "immediate and drastic action", the debate over climate change is heating up faster than our atmosphere.  And as each side grows increasingly frustrated with the other’s inability to see "the plain truth", a healthy debate devolves into an argument. 

Which concerns me, as people are likely to tune out before an intelligent conclusion can be reached.  We have a finite appetite for negative news over which we have no control.

But then something BIG like this hits the news, something that strikes at our hearts (specifically, at the breakfast table) – in 2004 bee populations had declined 50% since 1956, now reports indicate they are 90% below 1956 levels.

Of course, this is important to more than just honey lovers (but HAVE you seen the price of honey lately?!!)  Because of the important role bees play in pollination, a 2004 National Geographic article posited that bee loss may affect 10% – 30% of our food supply.  News which, naturally, makes every wine lover ask – "will the bee shortage affect my wine supply??!!"

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Slow Food Crumbling?

Carlopetrini_4Is Italian Rabble Rouser/Activist/Curmudgeon Carlo Petrini shooting his movement in the foot?  Or is he cagely using PR to nudge it beyond its small market of socially conscious consumers?

Scheduled to sign copies of his latest book (Slow Food NationeCookBooks has it for sale at $15.29), at San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza prior to the book’s release, it turns out Petrini printed some not-so-nice things about the Ferry Plaze, its market, and its shoppers.  By doing so, he denigrates the success of the movement he helped create. 

The Farmer’s Market apparently (this is unclear) canceled his book signing in favor of a meeting with some of those he offended.  It did not go well, according to today’s S.F. Chronicle in "The Inside Scoop".  The article describes how Petrini accuses the Farmers at this particular market of charging astronomical prices (well, I have to admit, they ARE higher than most, but the location is more ideal than most).  And he turns his sword-pen on the customers as ell, labeling them "…very wealthy… who show off their vegetables like jewels, status symbols"

I suspect he’s disappointed to see his idealistic movement become such a popular activity, a place to be seen, for the socially unconscious.  But can he really be so naive about how demand for sustainable foods will grow?  Does he not see success like the F.P. Farmer’s Market as a stepping stone toward his goal?

I hope he bridges the Chasm created with others in the cause.  This is not the time for factions.  Preserving a healthy food supply for future generations is too important to be derailed by human egos.

Swclogogs3x3_3 Cheers,

Dave Chambers, Wine Merchant

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You tube and the wine industry

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Many Thanks – Dave

Pic_youtubelogo_123x63I’m going to share a secret.  The wine world is a bit short on fun and a bit long on seriousness.  OK, maybe it’s not a big secrect.  But one thing I learned at Bonny Doon is that wine is more popular when sold with a healthy dose of fun.

So I’m thinking a series of wine videos would be a wise addition to our efforts – part education, part demonstration, part entertainment.  But before I leap off the cliff of time-consuming fiascos, I need your feedback.

Many approaches are not right for us.  For example, here is a short list of wine videos representing a wide range of styles and options.  Which one works best?  Which ones miss?  Do you like the talking head in front of the camera?  Or the "travel video" with a narrator behind the camera?  Please add your comments, and let me know what you think we should begin doing…

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What do you make of this?

Cropped_caviarThe doorbell rang, disturbing my concentration at my work desk.  I launched into my usual mad dash – sock-encased feet slipping along hardwood floors, sliding to a stop in the approximate area of our door buzzer.  It’s important to reach the buzzer before the UPS man grows tired of waiting – the demands of their rounds limit their stockpile of patience.

But this buzzer brought a surprise.  Instead of our usual UPS man, it was a young woman from a local delivery service bearing a package from Tsar Nicoulai Caviar.  It contained two 2.5 ounce tins of the precious eggs, a package of blini mix, a cast iron blini skillet, Crème fraîche and two mother-of-pearl spoons.  Since our 4-year old can eat her body weight in caviar (and Leslie and I are rather fond of it ourselves) it was a most welcome token of apology from my absent cooking partner during last week’s Chef Challenge.  She was unexpectedly detained by three hours at work, leaving me to fly solo.

Fortunately I was ready, stockpiling as many wines as I had menu ideas – ready for whatever ingredients showed up on my counter…

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Iron Chef? Rusty Chef??

Iron Chef

This is a busy week.  I have my usual monthly tasks PLUS income taxes and a wine club shipment to get ready.  A wise and disciplined person would be concentrating on this task list.

But I can’t keep from thinking about Thursday afternoon, when our friends Kendy and David are helping Leslie and me stage our own Iron Chef cooking challenge.

Kendy and I are the chefs.  We have accepted the challenge of preparing dinner using the ingredients presented to us by the other two participants.  Oh, and we have to plan and execute the entire meal in 90 minutes, using every ingredient they provide.  While we cook, they drink wine, watch, kibitz and snicker.

David and Leslie are the shoppers.  They will gather all the ingredients for use in preparing the meal.  I know these two.  They are smart.  They are creative.  They are evil.  They will find the most obscure, bizarre ingredients available at the Farmer’s Market or Chinatown, or Fisherman’s Wharf or…

I an a decent chef.  Though I have not spent as many hours in cooking schools as in wine schools, neither am I a stranger to their rosters.  And Kendy’s cooking chops?  Well, Kendy’s Italian, and that pretty much says it all.  But this is a TIMED event, and we need to be able to quickly come up with a great recipe for whatever they provide – Opah, or Ugli fruit, or oxtails, or head cheese, or…

So instead of working on taxes, I’m boning up on obscure vegetables.  While I should be writing up wines, I’m researching the art of smoking meats over tea on an indoor stovetop.  While I should be replying to suppliers, I’m thinking about ways to use Lemon Grass.  And every few minutes I’m bugging every chef friend who will answer the phone.  At the moment, I’m looking for a good source on bizarre sea animals – anyone know how to prepare Sea Cucumber?

As for the wines – I’m prepared for whatever they throw at us!  In the cooler I have several bottles of sparkling and still whites and roses, from light to heavy.  And in the cellar I have set aside a plethora of reds representing a similar spectrum of weight and alcohol.  This is the part I’m least concerned with – if the food is edible, we’ll have a wine that compliments it.  And if the food is not edible, we’ll have a wine that masks it!

I’ll let you know how it all turns out on Thursday.  I can’t wait…

Dave Chambers, Wine Merchant